In a campaign that has seen him repeatedly attack Democratic Gov., the shooting that left two teens injured on the property of Rep. Lee Zeldin was a worrying development. Kathy Hochul is concerned about public safety and the controversial bail reform law, which was passed more than three decades ago.
Zeldin had to use the opportunity of a random incident on Sunday afternoon outside his Long Island residence – his two 16-year-old daughters were in there, scared but uninjured – to communicate his views on an issue that crosses party lines.
Zeldin stated that it was “day after day after day,” to Fox News Monday. “And there’s a lot more parents than families are dealing with the reality that New York is experiencing rising crime. My daughters, thankfully, knew how to respond. “But, my daughters were not doing any homework. Bullets started flying all around them.”
Zeldin was an ally of former President Donald Trump. His campaign has been primarily focused on crime. Zeldin also criticized the 2019 Democratic-led legislation that created more difficulties for judges to keep certain suspects behind bars. While the law has been amended twice before, Republicans and some Democrats are pushing for greater revisions. The backlash against Zeldin is real. However, Zeldin’s abilities to turn it into a winning message are still in question. He has not been able to connect with voters in deep-blue New York. Hochul, who opposes new gun restrictions, has used this to weaken his “soft against crime” attacks.
Zeldin entered general elections at a clear disadvantage. New York’s Democrats are twice as numerous as the Republicans. This is despite their party having suffered many defeats in recent years. Governor George Pataki won the last GOP win in a state election in 2002. George Pataki won his third term as governor. Hochul, who was elected to the office as an interim after replacing the disgraced former governor, is considered nominally to be an incumbent. Andrew Cuomo resigned last January amid a scandal of sexual harassment. Hochul, however, is now a nominal incumbent.
Zeldin has used familiar GOP attacks on Hochul regarding the economy, and inflation, but like many Republicans across the country, he sees an opportunity in the criminal justice field. After Zeldin entered into the GOP primary, he won two New York City district attorney races. A Republican also re-elected the incumbent Democratic executive in Nassau County. The Republican messaging in these races was heavily influenced by the backlash to bail reform.
Zeldin has followed this path. Some critics think Zeldin is following that route too closely. To win an upset, a candidate must perform in the suburbs and upstate. It also requires a substantial dent in New York City’s blue wall.
Hochul for her part has concentrated her attacks against Zeldin on Trump’s ties to them and his opposition to abortion rights. (Zeldin stated that he will not seek to amend the state law guaranteeing access. Hochul referred to the legislative amendments when Hochul was pressed about bail reform laws.
Zeldin’s attempts at making hay out of the controversy have been hampered by cash woes. He was short on funds and decided to turn to Trump for help. Zeldin received $1.5million from the event. It also highlighted a fundamental dilemma: Trump and his Republican Party wing were crucial to campaign funds. But, having close public ties with them can prove fatal in a state that the former President lost by 23 points in 2019.
“I don’t think Zeldin finds himself in an impossible circumstance. Kenneth Sherrill of Hunter College, a professor emeritus, said that he believes Zeldin will do better than expected. “But the campaign was completely negative and hasn’t offered any positive reasons to vote for him. He does not speak to his records in the past offices. He does not speak on other issues than attacks. He has to show why he is an attractive alternative to Hochul.
Zeldin found an unlikely ally in New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Adams, a Democrat who endorsed Hochul, has criticized New York’s bail reform law. He demanded that legislators hold a special session to limit pretrial detention rules. His request was turned down.
Adams and Zeldin are sharply divided on gun violence. Hochul is also pushing for stricter regulations regarding firearms. Zeldin was critical of a new round in gun control measures, passed in Albany by Hochul this summer. They sought to avoid a Supreme Court ruling that would have allowed concealed carry outside the home.
“I believe we should separate a law-abiding New Yorker, who wants to safely carry a firearm for their self-defense, from the criminals who want firearms illegally and harm others, and then they end up back in the street because of the system here in New York,” Zeldin said to Fox News in an interview in July.
Last week, a federal court halted enforcement of large parts of the law. The office of the state attorney general is appealing this ruling.
Hochul posted a conciliatory message on Twitter early Sunday evening to respond to Zeldin’s family accident.
“I was briefed on the incident at Congressman Zeldin’s residence. We are still waiting for more information, but I’m relieved that the Zeldin family is safe. Hochul spoke from her campaign’s account on Twitter.
Zeldin was shot in the shooting. This is the second such incident. The first was in summer when Zeldin was attacked on stage by a man with a sharp object. Zeldin did not sustain any injuries and the attacker was soon subdued.
Hochul replied to reporters when asked about Monday’s shooting. Hochul stated that her office had “sent our messages right away” and that the state cops would be available for assistance if necessary.
“It’s a reminder that we all have to cooperate to get guns off our streets,” she said. “And so I will keep going on my journey as governor to make sure that our streets are safe. It is my highest priority.